Law professors, courts, and social scientists have long held that gross statistical disparities between races are evidence of a pattern and practice of discrimination. Behind this vision is the notion that but for discrimination, we’d be distributed proportionately by race across socioeconomic characteristics such as income, education, occupations, and other outcomes.
There is no evidence from anywhere on earth or any time in human history which demonstrates that but for discrimination there would be proportional representation and absence of gross statistical disparities by race, sex, nationality, or any other human characteristic. Nonetheless, much of our thinking, laws, litigation, and public policy are based on proportionality being the norm. Let us acknowledge a few gross disparities and decide whether they represent what lawyers and judges call a “pattern and practice of discrimination,” while at the same time thinking about what corrective action might be taken.
A little reflection shows that people give the term “racial segregation” one meaning for water fountains, operas, and ice hockey games, and an entirely different meaning for schools. The sensible test to determine whether Reagan National Airport water fountains are segregated is to see whether a black is free to drink at any fountain. If the answer is affirmative, the fountains are not racially segregated even if no blacks drink at the fountains. The identical test should also be used for schools. Namely, if a black student lives within a particular school district, is he free to attend a particular school? If so, the school is not segregated, even if not a single black attends. When an activity is not racially mixed today, a better term is “racially homogeneous,” which does not mean segregated in the historic usage of the term.
I hope that the people who say schools are segregated won’t make the same claim about water fountains, states, operas, and ice hockey games.